I had fully expected that now we have returned from a short cross-Channel trip I would be able to regale you with stories of my attempts to disentangle the Gordian knots of French bureaucracy regarding the delivery or collection of a wheelie bin to enable the local refuse collectors to take away the rubbish we never - well, hardly ever - leave and the issue of a credit card thingy to enable me to access our local tip to dispose of the garden refuse, ie the wisteria prunings. I also expected to be in a position to tell you about by attempt to change the tap on the shower. This in itself would have been a major challenge for me and would probably have taken me the whole week without the problems of rubbish disposal. I am not a plumber. Indeed, I well remember the Sunday afternoon when I attempted to change the washer in one of the kitchen taps. The subsequent call-out charge of the emergency plumber cost me the equivalent of an arm at least, if not an arm and a leg. But, as that Scots poet chappy said, 'The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglee' or something like that.
It all started off as normal for one of our French forays but there was a certain amount of snow and ice around once over the other side. However, this disappeared as we drove south and by mid-afternoon we were bowling along merrily on the A28 motorway (or autoroute as the French call these roads) towards Le Mans. The sun was shining and we had nary a care in the world. Well, maybe just a few little ones. Then, while we were crossing the viaduct over the Risle valley where the road consists of just a single lane and narrow hard shoulder in each direction, the engine cut out. As I coasted onto the hard shoulder a message flashed onto the multi-display screen indicating that this was a pretty serious problem. Sure enough, there was no way I could restart the car.
I have been assiduous in renewing my breakdown insurance cover, including European cover, since we started travelling so frequently to France so I confidently switched on the mobile phone and called the number in my contacts list only to be told that as I was on a French autoroute, I had to use the emergency call phones to be towed to a garage and that once off the motorway I should call my insurer again. I dutifully donned my yellow, reflective jacket and set off for the far side of the viaduct where I could see the orange pillar containing the emergency phone. Luckily, the instructions were in both French and English and I was quickly speaking to a pleasant lady who promised to send a tow-truck and insisted that Mrs S and I should wait on the grass until it arrived. I did try telling her that the nearest grass was about two hundred feet straight down but she was obviously reading from a long-prepared script and was not to be diverted.
I trudged back to the car and took the opportunity to fulfill a long-held wish that I could take a picture looking off the viaduct. One passing French driver obviously thought I had stopped for that very purpose!
Eventually a motorway service van drew to a halt behind us. The driver sat there for a while, made a phone call and wrote something in a notebook. (I could see all this in the rear-view mirror.) After sitting there a bit longer, he climbed down and opened the back of the van from where he took a red flag just like those that train guards used to wave. He then leant on the parapet, apparently talking to somebody below, although as that person would have been 200 feet away he can't have been doing that. After a car transporter arrived, the reason for the flag became apparent. The motorway service man would wave his flag to slow down approaching traffic as our car was winched aboard the transporter.
I wish I could say that we enjoyed the journey to the garage several miles away. I wish I could say that the garage mechanic spotted the simple problem and fixed it inside five minutes. Alas, that was not to be. The computer plugged into the car engine diagnosed a faulty injector. A new part would have to be ordered, but that could not be done until Monday. Delivery should be made Tuesday so I should, with luck, be able to see my car again on Wednesday. Meanwhile, my breakdown insurance company tried to arrange a hire car but it was by this time late on Saturday afternoon. The nearest hire car agency still open was at an airport some 40 miles away and they had no car available. A taxi would be arranged to take us to a hotel for the night and a fresh attempt to find a hire car would be made the following day.